Lockheed Martin opens Space Fence test site in New Jersey

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WASHINGTON – Lockheed Martin has built a scaled-down version of the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation space surveillance system in New Jersey as a way to test hardware and software for the Space Fence, the company announced March 28.

Lockheed Martin won a $914 million contract in June 2014 to build the Space Fence, an S-band radar which will be capable of tracking about five times as many objects — including much smaller objects — than current U.S. space surveillance assets can track. Lockheed will be installing the full-scale Space Fence radar on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

“The main objective is to reduce risk of discovering something unexpected in the Marshall Islands – especially because we will be integrating a new radar system on a massive scale,” said Bruce Schafhauser, director of Lockheed Martin’s Space Fence program. “Some things as simple as mechanical fit or installation sequence will be much better understood before we arrive on island.”

The company built a demonstration unit while it was bidding for the contract in 2013 but Lockheed Martin officials said the new test site in New Jersey was significantly larger. The site tracked its first satellite on Jan. 30, the company said in a release.

“First track is major milestone for us and represents that we have a functioning radar,” Schafhauser said. “It’s the first time the end-to-end radar loop is closed and we track real objects in space. The first track and the new test facility means we are one step closer to delivering a dramatic tenfold improvement in space situational awareness and orbital monitoring capability.”

The test site will provide early lessons learned on the installation and maintenance of the radar, a March 28 press release said.

Lockheed Martin plans to spend much of this year building the Space Fence on a six-acre site. The Air Force asked for $168 million for the program as part of its 2017 budget request. The program is expected to cost about $1.6 billion and reach initial operational capability in 2018.